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The Thousand and One

The Thousand and One Nights
 Author: unknown
 Culture: Arab, from a
collection of pre-Islamic
Middle Persian tales.
 Time: 14th century
 Genre: prose, contains lots
of different genres from
poetry to prose adventure
tales, romances, etc.
 Names to know:
Shahrazad, Shahrayar
1,001 Nights
 Oral and written versions existed side by
 The tales are rooted in daily life, but are made
magical by their settings, fantastic adventures,
and the intervention of sorcerers and demons
 The Prologue sets forth the themes
 Lust, madness, violence, justice, retribution,
The Narrator

 Shahrazad succeeds through the power of

story-telling (narrative) to ward off tyranny
and to suspend time.
 Overall narrative structure: “nesting tales”
that flow from and lead into each other.
 Framing Narrative is set
out in the Prologue.
Generic Importance
 This is one of the richest reservoirs of
narrative genres in Medieval times. E.M.
Forster in his Aspects of Fiction (1927)
considers One Thousand and One Nights to
be the origin of the modern novel.
 The Greeks invented the novel in the
Hellenistic period (3rd-1st centuries BCE) but
these were adventure/romance tales only.
 Novel form is developing in medieval Japan,
as well.
Two-part Narrative Structure
 Baghdad part: the characters and action focus on
Baghdad in the time of Haroun al-Rashid.
 Egyptian part: characters and settings are Egyptian,
jinn are manipulated through talismans rather than
 Tales reflect the influence of all the Islamic world (&
the Koran) as well as ancient Babylonian &
Mesopotamian narratives and historical events &
figures such as those surrounding Alexander
the Great.
 Sets out the reason for
the tale-telling, and the
main characters.
 Explains why
Shahzaman visits his
brother Shahrayar, why
he is depressed, and
what makes him feel
 Describes male/female
Male vs. Female P.O.V.

 Men are comfortable when in control

 Men react violently when they realize they
do not have control
 Women dislike the bonds put upon and
actively seek escape
 Women can be powerful as even Djinn
cannot control them
 Some women and men do find balance
What to do when you have no
 When Shahrayar returns home he says, “There is
not a single chaste woman anywhere on the entire
face of the earth” Thus he plans to gain control
through violence.
 Violent control comes with a heavy cost [much death]
 There is a reminiscence of Gilgamesh , “He continued to do
this until all the girls perished, their mothers mourned, and
there arose a clamor among the fathers and mothers, who
called the plague upon his head, complained to the Creator
of the heavens, and called for help on Him who hears and
answers prayers.”
Aim of the Tales

 Shahrazad’s tales may be chosen to teach

Shahrayar that not all women are like his first
 In many of the tales a benign but powerful woman
undoes the harm done by a bad woman.
 The wicked characters are punished according to
their crimes, but are never put to death (unlike all
of Shahrayar’s other innocent wives!).

 After a thousand and one nights, Shahrayar

finally embraces Shahrazad as a virtuous
woman and gives over his unjust behavior.
 She reveals their three sons.
 Dinarzad marries Shahzaman.
 The vizier becomes king in Shahzaman’s